In "Secrets", episode 6 of season 2 of The Walking Dead, Maggie and Glenn had been in the pharmacy for a few minutes. Maggie then walks to the back of the store and starts rummaging through the racks of medicines.

Suddenly, and without warning, a walker grabs her hand from the other side of the shelves.

maggie and glenn attacked

In every other instance that I recall, the Walkers reacted immediately upon sensing living prey by moaning and walking/shuffling/crawling towards them. Yet this did not seem to happen in this case.

We've seen evidence that most Walkers can smell living humans from several feet away (identifying Glenn and Rick as living after rain started to wash away the stench of the Walker organs they covered themselves with), and there have been numerous examples of Walkers responding to sounds and visual stimulus (while they don't seem to be able to tell a human from a Walker on sight without other cues such as odor, countless Walkers have demonstrated the ability to perceive, and react to, motion at varying distances).

Setting aside dramatic license, was this Walker waiting quietly until Maggie got within reach? I suppose it is possible that it somehow didn't realize they were there until Maggie was in reach, but I didn't see any indication that the Walker's senses were in any way inhibited. There was no obvious sounds of moaning, or boxes and furniture being knocked over as it heading straight towards its prey as we might expect based upon behavior seen from other Walkers.

Are there precedents for ambush behavior in The Walking Dead universe? Or are there precedents that show that Walkers don't always behave the way I described, and the appearance of intentional ambush may be coincidental and simply normal Walker behavior?

  • I don't know how much a lack of obvious missing senses implies - poor zombie senses are very routine in the Walking Dead universe, regardless of explicit display. I made the assumption it wasn't an ambush as much as sense-based - ambush behavior seems more advanced than the walkers are usually capable of. Commented Dec 2, 2011 at 18:04
  • 1
    In both the show and first graphic novel, there's the instance of Rick and Glenn covering themselves in guts to avoid detection. Later in the comic, there's a specific instance of a walker laying around quietly in the dark only to grab someone's leg as they pass by. There's also the scene in the show where the survivors hide under cars to avoid the walkers - pretty flimsy, if they've got good senses. Commented Dec 2, 2011 at 18:57
  • I'd call zombies looking directly at them but ignoring them because they can't distinguish their scent an argument for bad senses. And there's still the ability to feel their heat as they walk right by them under cars (and there's no way they held their breath that entire time, and Carol even screamed IIRC). As far as the leg grab goes, it depends entirely on your perspective as to whether it's senses or ambush. Commented Dec 2, 2011 at 19:34
  • As for feeling heat or hearing people breathing under a car, normal uninfected humans couldn't do that, so why would Walkers be able to?
    – Beofett
    Commented Dec 2, 2011 at 19:43
  • About sight vs. smell - what about Daryl in the river? There's no real way to know if it's a decision vs. senses, and I'm not willing to buy "partially decomposed corpses have perfect senses." Leaving the car situation aside (despite the noises they made), my only point is that I didn't perceive the walker in the store as ambushing - it could have been wandering down that aisle, smelled Maggie, shambled over, and grabbed her. What indication was there that it was specifically waiting for her? Commented Dec 2, 2011 at 20:58

3 Answers 3


After doing some heavy comic book reading research, there are numerous instances of what the survivors call "lurkers." Some key examples:

  • In issue #20, just before

    Allen gets bitten in the leg:

    Panel from The Walking Dead #20

    The zombie makes no sound whatsoever, biting him just after he walks past.

  • In issue #32, just before

    Dr. Stevens gets bitten in the neck:

    Panel from The Walking Dead #32

    That one is different; that particular zombie did make a noise ("GRAUGHH!"), though it was while actually biting.

    • In issue #34 they actually describe the difference between "roamers" and "lurkers":

    Panel from The Walking Dead #34

As to whether or not they're actually engaging in ambush tactics or not, it's not really conclusive. I would say, actually, that the fact that zombies typically make noise when attacking is actually strong evidence for a lack of tactics - it gives away their position immediately. What there is, however, is evidence of that same type of behavior in the comic - it is by no means unique to the show.

  • I just wanted to point out that other characters have expressed disdain for the distinction. To other characters, there's just 'walkers'. I believe they've seen lurkers roam once being awakened, and they've also seen roamers who stopped and lurked.
    – Jeff
    Commented Feb 3, 2012 at 15:08
  • Having just read through issue #34, I do feel the need to point out that Dr. Stevens literally dropped directly in front of where the zombie was lurking, and was quite possibly within arms reach by the time the zombie even became aware of him.
    – Beofett
    Commented Feb 28, 2012 at 13:20
  • @Beofett true, but the lurking behavior is typically "stay in one place and wait for food." It looked to me like that's what that one was doing, but it's open to interpretation. Commented Feb 28, 2012 at 13:48
  • Oh, it doesn't change the validity of your answer. Just a nit I felt the need to pick :)
    – Beofett
    Commented Feb 28, 2012 at 13:50

There is no evidence that zombies have enough intelligence left to plan and execute an ambush. As you've noted, everything they've done in the show so far has been reactionary.

In episode 1x06 (TS-19), Jenner explains that when a person comes back from death, their brain is not totally functional. Only the brain stem is active - the resurrection brings back "just a shell, driven by mindless instinct."

Onto this particular incident, it doesn't look like an ambush at all. Placing yourself and your victim between not one, but two shelves does not look like a sound ambush strategy:

enter image description here

It's possible that the zombie was sleeping (and therefore hidden from view, but in close proximity) and reacted to the noise and smell. Something similar happened in the very first episode, when Rick gets in the tank and the zombie doesn't react until Rick tries to pull out his gun.

This could explain why Maggie didn't notice anything until the zombie grabbed her.

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    Do zombies actually sleep?
    – svick
    Commented Dec 21, 2011 at 16:49
  • @svick Some zombies are found in a sleep-like state (ie: not moving at all). Commented Dec 21, 2011 at 16:53

At least in the comics there's no evidence of this sort of behavior. The dead don't seem to plan at all, just react.

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